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Trends Microbiol. 2009 Sep;17(9):406-13. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2009.06.006. Epub 2009 Aug 31.

Color me bad: microbial pigments as virulence factors.

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Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunobiology Research Institute, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA 90048, USA.


A hallmark feature of several pathogenic microbes is the distinctive color of their colonies when propagated in the clinical laboratory. Such pigmentation comes in a variety of hues, and has often proven useful in presumptive clinical diagnosis. Recent advances in microbial pigment biochemistry and the genetic basis of pigment production have sometimes revealed a more sinister aspect to these curious materials that change the color of reflected light by selective light absorbance. In many cases, the microbial pigment contributes to disease pathogenesis by interfering with host immune clearance mechanisms or by exhibiting pro-inflammatory or cytotoxic properties. We review several examples of pigments that promote microbial virulence, including the golden staphyloxanthin of Staphylococcusaureus, the blue-green pyocyanin of Pseudomonas spp., and the dark brown or black melanin pigments of Cryptococcus neoformans and Aspergillus spp. Targeted pigment neutralisation might represent a viable concept to enhance treatment of certain difficult infectious disease conditions.

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